As the representative body of Naturism in the UK, British Naturism has a responsibility to promote and protect Naturism. Over the last few years there have been advances that affect our daily lives. The Crown Prosecution Service guidance that nudity is not itself criminal if there is no sexual content or intent has been reinforced by the work of Peter and Christine Wright to have the College of Policing recognise that a police response to Naturism is not necessary and that call centres should be advising callers of the legal position. However, these successes do not mean that campaigning for our rights is now “finished”.
Those of us who participate in free hiking can testify that although nearly all public encounters are positive, a small handful of people still react negatively and aggressively. The media tells us that there are still police responses to some reports of a naked walker or cyclist. And the external threats to Naturist swims that we encountered earlier this year demonstrates that some people still worry about Naturism, simply due to misunderstanding the facts. Furthermore, there are challenges on the horizon. The government plan to require age verification to view online pornography could have negative consequences for us if Naturism is mistakenly categorised as sexually motivated. Each of these challenges share a common feature: misunderstanding of the principles of Naturism.
In the British Naturism strategy put forward in 2018, we identified campaigning as one of the more important, if difficult, areas to advance. The above challenges reveal that we need to reassess our campaigns strategy. The law is on our side, problems arise when people don’t know the law or because they are surprised by Naturism because it is encountered so rarely. We proposed that Campaigns needed to be rebranded as “Campaigns and Promotion” or “Campaigns and Information” to reflect how the nature of the challenges have evolved. A key component of the evolution is the need to review our strategy and avoid narrow approaches.
The Campaigns Task Force and Blue-Sky Aims
We have now begun assembling a Campaigns Task Force to explore both the needs and opportunities for action. The Task Force was given an open remit and adopted a blue-sky approach; first we would dream of where we would like to reach, then more specific objectives will crystallise over time. The shared vision so far is to achieve “Freedom of Choice in Dress”. Everybody in the British Isles should be allowed to dress however they wish - including the choice to wear nothing at all. Although this dream is ambitious, it is powerful. Opposition might push successfully against a campaign to allow nudity if it conflicts with their prejudices. It will be a bold opponent who will argue that citizens should not have Freedom of Choice.
Even at this early stage it is apparent that “Campaigns and Promotion” will include at least two essential strands. We need a political or “defensive” campaigning strand to maintain pressure on the government and councils to protect how Naturism is regarded by the law and those who administer it. We also need a promotional or “positive” strand to normalise Naturism in the public eye. The task force includes people with expertise in both strands and mixes long-standing British Naturism campaigners with people with fresh energy and ideas.
Familiarising the public with Naturism and inspiring participation requires persuasion rather than a combative approach. This is where the lines between our various activities begin to blur. Visible events are our strongest tool for persuading the public that Naturism is not just a respectable life, it is a great life. Media engagement puts Naturism very much in the public eye, people see that we are not a secretive cabal and venues see that we are trustworthy guests. Nudefest as the flagship summer event has attracted interest from local media for several years and even small, local events such as Rodin’s The Kiss at Christchurch Mansion near Ipswich have gained a lot of traction in the local press. However, Nudefest coverage kicked on this year by welcoming journalist Amy Nickell, who wrote a two-page feature for The Sun newspaper. Given that the print version of The Sun reaches 10 million readers and the online version a further 30 million readers, positive media reports of our events have a much greater reach that we could ever achieve alone. The Nudefest publicity was not an isolated phenomenon, the Naked Rollercoaster World record was again picked up by national newspapers and reached millions, building the visibility and credibility of naked recreation.
Events do not just advertise Naturism; they provide opportunities for newcomers to try it themselves and then go on to tell their own friends. Persuading people that Naturism is fun is an empty effort if there is nowhere to try it. A change we have started to see as our reputation has grown is that venues have started to recognise the value of the Naturist market. If venues arrange sessions themselves, we are freed from the responsibility of organisation, and the time involved. A notable success has been the swim at Wigton Baths, instigated by Ron O’Hare but run by the baths themselves. Ron is part of the Task Force, and hopes to see the template adopted across the country, expanding opportunities with little effort. A further target identified early on is the aim to broaden our appeal. Universities and students would be particularly good targets, if we can provide links for university groups to visit local events, we engage the people who will have influence in the years ahead. The two approaches support one-another well: more customers incentivise venues to run sessions, and more sessions provide greater opportunity to participate. The people we have on the Campaigns task Force should make this achievable.
Defending our Rights
While promotion has grown in priority, the need for political influence has not disappeared and there are areas where we need to actively defend our position. The College of Policing guidelines should mean that genuine Naturists do not encounter problems with the police, but any top-level guideline takes a long time to filter through a system and needs to be pressed. Although it should not affect us, proposed requirements for age-verification on pornographic sites could have consequences; we do not know who chooses what constitutes pornography and we could be affected if we do not make it clear that Naturism is bound by family values and is not an adult-only lifestyle.
In addition to such threats there are some key opportunities. The government is preparing to consult on hate crime, both online and in person. The targeting of Naturists by vigilantes this spring was a form of hate crime, and we would want to claim protection from that type of attack. Colin Langham-Fitt on the Task Force has already started to engage in that consultancy, along with Nick Caunt, to ensure that our voice is heard. For several years we have made it clear that Naturism is a philosophical belief and therefore should be protected from discrimination under the law. The claim has been endorsed by employment tribunals and was a key factor when requesting police engagement to protect our events from potential protests. Getting Naturism specifically recognised as a protected characteristic would remove any possible dispute and demonstrate that there is government backing of our position.
Further endorsement can be achieved through research into naturism to provide factual evidence that naturism not only does no harm, but has health benefits, especially in the areas of mental and social health. Our work with Dr Keon West has already built our academic credibility and led to promotional benefits such as the Naked Beach television series to encourage body positivity. Collaborations with other academic researchers are already emerging, the #NakedSocial experiment highlighted in the news section is just one new research project, with plenty more to come. Therefore, although this strand focusses on protecting our rights and is defensive, it is not negative and there are great opportunities here.
The Road Ahead
Although changing politics and broad perceptions can appear an intimidating, even impossible task, the good news is that we are not the first to walk this path. On joining the Task Force, Jon Williams observed that where we stand now is where the LGBT+ community stood 30 years ago. At that time, same-sex couples would receive verbal abuse for holding hands in the street and employers would use constructive dismissal to dispose of staff of whom they did not approve. Sound familiar to Naturists? Today, any such discrimination against LGBT+ individuals would feel the full weight of the law, meaning that change can be achieved and that we have a road map to follow. So, there is still a long way to go, but there are bright things on the horizon and we have a road to take us there.
Vice-Chairman, British Naturism
Photo Credit : Paul Kirrage